Alastair Campbell has slammed The Sun’s coverage of the coronavirus, and appealed for more media outlets to be more critical of the prime minister’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
He said the media was more concerned about Boris Johnson’s personality than the decision he has taken during the coronavirus epidemic.
The New European’s editor-at-large made his comments while appearing on talkRADIO with journalist Dan Wootton.
On the show he also claimed the prime minister had used the excuse of his son’s birth to avoid Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on Wednesday.
He said: ‘I’m perfectly happy to join everyone else and congratulate Boris Johnson on his baby but the point I have been making for some time is that very large parts of our media are focusing far too much on Boris Johnson the personality and not enough on what is frankly the biggest national catastrophe of our lifetime.’
Campbell claimed journalists were more fixed on ‘got you’ questions than scrutinising government actions, and criticised reporters taking part in daily coronavirus press conferences.
He said: ‘I think the real problem is that they [journalists] are more focused on a story that will become a package later in the day. I also don’t like this idea that because the crisis is so big that somehow we should give minsters an easy ride. I just don’t think we should.’
He added: ‘If they [minister] feel like they’re going into those briefings and are being properly challenged and asked difficult questions, they will do better preparation and better government will happen in the background. That is why PMQs is so important.’
The former adviser to Tony Blair took aim at The Sun, where Wootton is a columnist and executive editor, saying the paper had been more focused on Boris Johnson’s recovery from the virus than the national coronavirus death tally.
The drive-time presenter rejected the comment, adding the prime minister’s health was a matter of national interest and that the paper had covered the daily death toll in depth.
‘If you’re trying to say that the leader of the country in intensive care, battling what the rest of this country is, is not the biggest story of the day then you’ve lost your journalistic sense,’ Wootton said.
Campbell replied: ‘I don’t agree with you. Most of the days the prime minister was in hospital, you knew nothing that could bring the story forward. Suddenly, someone in No 10 saying that prime minster was in very good spirits became the news.’
He mocked the paper’s Good Friday headline, which read ‘Boris is Out (now that really is a Good Friday)’
‘How can your paper say on a day where more than 800 died is a good Friday…how can you say that because one guy left hospital?’
Campbell emphasised Johnson should have been in parliament on Monday instead of briefing the media on Downing Street.
A poll of listeners found that 90% disagreed with Campbell who had earlier tweeted, ‘A new born baby may be a better excuse than most for missing PMQs (though he should still be doing it). I suspect we are going to see an awful lot of excuses in future. @BorisJohnson has a habit of avoiding proper questioning’.